New American Songbook

"In 20 years of listening to hip hop, its music and stories have never left me unchallenged or unchanged. Throughout its history—from Kool Herc to KRS and beyond—hip hop has told the story of America through the styles of noir, memoir, jazz and rhythm and blues, comic books and blockbuster action movies. It is everything we say we are, and those things we maintain we are not. This is the new American Songbook." - KMUW commentator, Zack Gingrich-Gaylord  

New American Songbook can be heard on alternate Mondays, or through iTunes.

Twenty years ago, Talib Kweli and Mos Def released ‘Black Star’, an album that was as much monumental celebration of everything hip hop as it was a signal achievement of an era on its way out. That era, the Golden Age of hip hop, gets dated from the late eighties to the mid to late nineties, and was a time of incredible diversity in hip hop: gangsta rap aired alongside conscious hip hop; Outkast had a couple of hit songs, but so did the Fresh Prince. There seemed to be room for everybody.

The philosopher Timothy Morton has observed that poetic imagery, like light, is delivered in discrete, quantized packets, one after the other after the other. There are convenient coincidences along with this: our eyes see at a certain number of frames per second, our ears can only hear so much at any given moment. There are both limitations to our perception of reality, and to the communication of reality itself.

The West, and America specifically, has a long-standing problem of confusing the vast and diverse continent of Africa for a homogeneous country called Africa. There are, of course, reasons for this, many of them racist, but some are more literary. African American narrative has often used “Africa” as a device to indicate and imagine both an inspirational past and aspirational future, and in hip hop there are many notable examples of this: Nas’ “If I Ruled the World”, for one, and more recently, the fantastic 2017 track from southern rapper CyHi the Prynce called “Nu Africa.”

The emcee Action Bronson recently released a cookbook — I can’t say the real title in polite company, but let’s just say that it’s the less kid-friendly version of “Holy moly, that’s delicious.” While Bronson makes his figurative bread and butter in music, a large part of his persona as an emcee is regaling his audience with as many tales of his culinary exploits as with other similarly Bacchanalian pursuits. 

There’s a moment in ‘Spa 700’ where you find your bearings, just barely: the tempo solidifies, a melody emerges and stanzas form. Then you realize that only four minutes have passed since the beginning of this fourteen-minute release from Philly musicians DJ Haram and Moor Mother.

  

There are cloth mesh barriers lining the steel girders underneath the railroad bridge in downtown Wichita. The bridge, nicknamed the ‘pigeon bridge’, was a home to a roost of the birds--a few weeks before the mesh went up, live traps were placed, pocketed between beams, and the birds’ numbers dwindled.

"The Hip Hop Way" originally aired December 16, 2016.  

There’s a scene in the 1997 documentary "Rhyme and Reason" where the emcee Taz demonstrates how to hand someone a hat. It isn’t enough to merely give someone a hat, he explains, you have to hand it to them in a hip hop way. As he performs the difference, you can see he knows this is over the top, but you can also see there’s a part of this that’s true: There is a hip hop way to hand someone a hat, and it’s a little funkier than any other way.

Netflix

Scientific concepts have long existed in hip hop music, sometimes expressed in the mathematics of Five Percenter ideology, or in more procedural ways, like referring to the recording studio as a laboratory, suggesting the crafting of music is akin to the creation of a science experiment. And while these themes are widespread, my guess is that if you ask a hip hop fan which emcee they most associate with science, 9 out of 10 of them will answer with the GZA of the Wu-Tang clan.

@chollette / femdotdot.com

I’ve been really impressed with the hip hop coming out of Chicago lately--emcees like Mick Jenkins, Noname and of course Chance the Rapper have developed a wonderful and distinct sound and emotional range that feels rare in contemporary hip hop. 

American hip hop is as multilingual as America, with emcees mixing English together with any number of other languages. And pick a country in the world and you’ll find an emcee who’s making quality hip hop about that part of the world, and often in their own language.

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